Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 11/23/2021 12:09 PM

Chicago Tribune. November 22, 2021.

Editorial: A cool glass of Lake Michigan water. Cheap for some, irrationally expensive for others.

 

How long can you go without water before your blood begins to boil? Can you last a day without showering, water for cooking, toilet flushes? A couple of days? A week?

Last month, the small, predominantly Black and Latino south suburb of Dixmoor went roughly two weeks without water. Schools and businesses had to close. A boil order was issued. Residents sought refuge at the homes of relatives or friends, or (assuming they had the resources) checked into a hotel.

There's a couple of potential causes for Dixmoor's water crisis that have been floating around. It could have been a problem with a feeder main from Harvey, the neighboring south suburb from which Dixmoor buys its water. Or it might have been a water main break in Dixmoor. Or it could have been something else.

At the heart of Dixmoor's plight, however, is this reality: A mostly minority south suburb is paying exorbitantly more for water than much of the rest of the Chicago region, and the tiny hamlet of 3,600 should expect the disparity to only get worse. So should a bevy of other mostly Black or Latino south and west suburban communities.

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Why?

Why should a commodity that everyone needs, a commodity that comes from a source as plentiful as Lake Michigan, be prohibitively expensive for some and relatively cheap for others?

The answer lies in the irrational, Kafkaesque way that water gets distributed and priced in the Chicago area.

For Chicagoans, Lake Michigan is more than a breathtaking expanse of blue that helps frame their city. It's a drinking water source that's relatively inexpensive; city residents are geographically first in line and thus pay rates that don't break the bank. But what Chicago doesn't drink and use, it sells to surrounding suburbs. In turn, those communities sell to suburbs farther out-at incrementally higher prices.

But why do many south suburbs end up paying the most?

Water mains and other components of water distribution infrastructure have been deteriorating for years, even decades, in these communities. Businesses and jobs have fled many south and west suburbs, chipping away at their tax bases and leaving municipalities with dwindling coffers when it comes to money for water infrastructure maintenance and overhauling. Pipes start leaking, which forces towns to charge more. According to a 2017 Tribune investigation, more than 25 billion gallons of lake water leaked out of this region's system in 2016, costing $44 million. Five west and south suburbs - Burnham, East Hazel Crest, Hometown, Maywood and Posen - lost at least a third of their water supply in 2016.

President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure legislation should serve as an obvious source of help. The package includes $55 billion to shore up America's access to clean drinking water. Dixmoor, Harvey, Maywood and other south and west suburbs with decrepit water infrastructure should be first in line for that money. Exactly how much will be earmarked for the south and west suburbs? Stay tuned.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Still, the Chicago area didn't have to wait this long for relief. As far back as 2018, legislative fixes were on the table in Springfield. One bill would have created a Cook County water infrastructure fund to help pay for system upgrades. The fund would have doled out grants to Cook County suburbs to pay for the overhauls. Another bill proposed in 2019 tackled the glaring inequities in water rates across the Chicago area. That bill would have set up a water rate advisory committee to study the reasons for water rate hikes and brainstorm ways to set more equitable rates. Both bills went nowhere.

South and west suburban leaders shouldn't have to beg Springfield for help on what has been a problem unaddressed for far too long. Lawmakers must realize that the vitality of the Chicago region is a driving force behind Illinois' overall economy. And when one chunk of the Chicago area lags, the whole metropolitan region suffers - as the does the whole of Illinois.

By the same token, those south and west suburban leaders share the blame for their water woes. Harvey was put under a consent decree in which a court appointed receiver gained control of the city's water fund. Why? Because Harvey's water stewardship was a mess. Harvey officials were accused of not paying for millions of gallons of water that the south suburb bought from Chicago and then resold. Money that was supposed to repay Chicago went to cover unrelated loans.

And Dixmoor? Harvey says Dixmoor owes it more than $2 million for water it sold to the tiny south suburb. Dixmoor officials have also used money from the village's water fund to meet payroll for village workers - money that normally would go to water infrastructure maintenance.

The losers in all of this are the citizens of Harvey, Dixmoor and a host of other south and west suburbs, who must wonder why they endure so much hardship for a commodity that the rest of the region enjoys at relatively low cost.

The Biden administration and Springfield can and should help south and west suburbs with their water woes. But residents of those communities can help themselves as well - by electing fiscally responsible officials who know how to lead.

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Chicago Sun-Times. November 22, 2021.

Editorial: Parents deserve the full story about sex abuse allegations at Marine Leadership Academy

When it comes to protecting children from abuse, there is no room for anything but complete transparency that holds adults fully accountable.'

It didn't take long to find out that Chicago Public Schools officials apparently knew far more than the public initially was told about the sexual abuse scandal at a Northwest Side high school.

Last Friday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez announced that the district's inspector general had substantiated sexual misconduct and cover-up allegations against 13 adults at Marine Leadership Academy. Ten of the 13 have been fired.

We can't say this any better than Martinez: 'The behavior uncovered by this investigation represents a stunning betrayal of trust and colossal failure of judgment and character on the part of far too many individuals.'

But after the latest reporting by WBEZ Chicago's Sarah Karp and the Sun-Times' Nader Issa, we have more questions: Who, at the top levels of CPS, knew details about the allegations soon after they first surfaced in 2019? And most importantly, what did they do about it in the following two years?

It should go without saying that parents, and the public, deserve the full story about allegations of sexual abuse of students.

Yet CPS attorneys and leaders long had knowledge of an investigation into sexual misconduct and failure to report it, despite claiming otherwise, as Karp and Issa reported.

Marine Leadership's principal since 2015, Erin Galfer, was even promoted just months before she was among those fired for allegedly failing to report misconduct. Galfer is now fighting her firing and says it was CPS leadership, not her, who ignored abuse reports.

Meanwhile, Inspector General Will Fletcher said his office alerted CPS in April of 2019 about three allegations and listed the principal as one of those being accused of failing to report some of the situations. The IG said it consistently updated CPS about the investigation as it unfolded.

So exactly what happened between April 2019 and now?

Finding out is just the first step, followed by tougher reforms, if needed, beyond those CPS instituted in 2019 after a Chicago Tribune investigation uncovered widespread mishandling of sexual abuse cases.

Martinez, who is new to CPS and could not have known the details before being briefed in late October, has already taken aggressive steps. Staff who fail to report abuse - not just those who are perpetrators - will be removed from their jobs. He also plans to lobby Illinois lawmakers to make it illegal for school employees to have sex with students, no matter their age.

The district has added more staff to the IG's office, and that should help speed up the pace of investigations.

When it comes to protecting children from predators, there is no room for anything but complete transparency that holds adults fully accountable.

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Decatur Herald and Review. November 20, 2021.

Editorial: Howard Buffett's unorthodox path to sheriff now under investigation

The revelation of the dismissal of a state official improperly granting certification to Howard Buffett raises more questions than it answers.

The executive inspector general's office - the state government watchdog - found that Brent Fischer, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, acted wrongly in granting Decatur benefactor Buffett a law enforcement certification to be a police officer. Fischer was fired as a result of the report.

Those uncomfortable with Buffett's ascension in law enforcement and those who have accused Buffett of buying his way into the career are now armed with a 'told ya so.'

Buffett was appointed Macon County sheriff in 2017 to fill a vacancy created by the retiring Thomas Schneider, serving for 14 months. At the time, sheriffs only had to be a U.S. citizen, live in the county for a year and have no felony record to qualify for the job. Before that, he was a volunteer in the sheriff's office.

Buffett did not run in 2018. He planned a run in 2022, but scrapped the plan in June because a police-standards overhaul signed into law last winter requires elected sheriffs to have completed the basic training course. Buffett said at the time that it was 'open to interpretation' whether he met the requirements.

Brent Fischer, executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, is not commenting now, but made his position clear earlier. He offered the inspector general several reasons for granting Buffett the waiver, including his previous experience as Macon County sheriff, and the fact that several people lobbied for him. He also said Buffett 'had done a lot for the law enforcement community.'

Fischer wrote a letter on Nov. 4 questioning the fairness of the investigation. He said the inspector general failed to 'state any established rule, regulation statute, or even norm I somehow violated.'

'The Report points to no factual basis for a finding of any objective legal or ethical standard,' Fischer wrote.

The cynic's reaction would be, 'It's Illinois, why would you expect anything else to happen?' But the question of who lobbied for Buffett and what they said to influence the outcome is also important.

Nothing happening now changes the good Buffett has done in Decatur and Illinois as well as the United States and the world. In Decatur and Macon County alone, Buffett has donated at least $60 million to social programs and community assistance. Among the beneficiaries have been: Community Care Campus, The Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy at Decatur public schools, Macon County recycling facility, a prosecutor dedicated to opioid cases in the Macon County State's Attorney's Office, Decatur's neighborhood revitalization project, consultants to evaluate the operations of the Macon County Jail, the Central Illinois Regional Dispatch Center, the Boys & Girls Club of Decatur expansion, Dove Inc., the Children's Museum of Illinois, the Law Enforcement Training Center, the Devon Amphitheater in Nelson Park, and many more that we may not even be aware of.

Most recently, Buffett donated $1 million to the WSOY Community Food Drive.

As we wrote in 2017 when Buffett took over as sheriff, 'his support of law enforcement is without question, his passion for the profession is palpable and he has nothing to gain financially from such an appointment.'

But we also wrote, 'Buffett's generosity and our community's collective admiration should not blind us to the need for a transparent process.' The latest information belies transparency.

There is more to the story, and those facts will arrive in due time. In the meanwhile, we should not assume impropriety just because we can imagine it.

END

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